Customs and customary tradition

With the exception of some aspects of the tribal way of life, including “customary tradition”, local customs are very similar to those found in France and any French overseas territory.

The essential

  • Customs
  • Traditional Kanak ceremony

For example, everyday etiquette and greetings follow the same pattern as in Paris or Marseille, Reunion Island or Tahiti: verbal greetings (bonjour, merci, au revoir) and gestures: a handshake or a kiss on the cheek.

One of the key differences is that going topless on beaches can offend local susceptibilities. Although it’s becoming a little more common in Noumea, it’s unacceptable on the islands or in the Bush.

But the essential spirit of New Caledonia and of Kanak culture is enshrined in the ancestral rules and rituals of Kanak customary tradition. “Coutume”  refers to all the social rules that govern the everyday life of Kanak clans, and it is vital that visitors show their respect for customary tradition where needful and appropriate.

For example, if you would like to enter tribal lands or access or visit places considered as taboo, or if you are requesting tribal homestay accommodation, you should “faire la coutume” (make the customary gesture) as a mark of respect. A greeting is exchanged and a simple gift is offered (money, a piece of fabric known as “le manou”).

For the Kanak people, this traditional ceremony of greeting and welcome has profound significance. A customary gesture is a mark of mutual respect establishing a unique and special bond between you and a community whose social and cultural traditions go back many thousands of years. It's a gesture from the heart.